Re-enactors tackle Maryland's 1st great battle of Civil War

September 06, 1998|By FROM STAFF REPORTS

About 1,500 Civil War buffs will be re-enacting the Battle of South Mountain next weekend near Boonsboro.

The event is expected to be the biggest Civil War re-enactment in Maryland this year.

An re-enactment area has been selected because it has no modern vistas.

The event is sponsored by the Central Maryland Heritage League, the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the 7th Maryland Volunteer Infantry. The re-enactment features battles both Saturday and Sunday, artillery fire and civilian activities.

The spectator admission charge is $5. Children under 12 are admitted free. Profits from the event will be used for preservation the South Mountain battlefield area.

The Battle of South Mountain was fought Sept. 14, 1862, between the forces of the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, and the Army of Northern Virginia, commanded by Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The action was the first major engagement of the Civil War on Maryland soil. Southern troops fought a rear guard action to hold three passes across South Mountain for a day while Lee concentrated his army for the more famous battle of Antietam, three days later.

South Mountain's battlefield - not cluttered with monuments, as some say of Gettysburg - is the height of informality. The battleground fields and woods have some markers. Detailed interpretations of the area are given by historian Steve Stotlemeyer in tours organized by the Heritage League.

The fighting occurred at Turner's Gap and Crampton's Gap, 7.2 miles apart, and Fox's Gap near Turner's.

After one day of ferocious combat, with the Confederates outnumbered, 530 Union soldiers and 749 Confederate troops were killed, wounded or missing, according to "The Civil War in Maryland," by Daniel Carroll Toomey.

Many observers consider the Battle of South Mountain neither a victory nor a defeat for either side.

At Fox's Gap, Texas sharpshooters shot Union Maj. Gen. Jesse Lee Reno. In the woods, Union soldiers killed Confederate Brig. Gen. Samuel Garland Jr. When Sept. 14 was over, Union troops dumped the bodies of 58 Confederates down a well.

Not many people know about this episode in the war, lamented George F. Brigham Jr., 50, a Middletown cabinetmaker and one of the founders of the Heritage League. He said the bodies of the 58 Southern soldiers were retrieved from the well and buried in a common grave in Rosehill Cemetery in Hagerstown.

By purchasing land and giving tours of the battlefield, Brigham and his colleagues in Frederick County are trying to end the anonymity of the battlefield and prevent development that would destroy peaceful scenes for future generations.

The group is working with federal, state and Appalachian Trail officials to preserve Civil War history along Maryland's segment of the trail. The trail-protection plan, begun in 1978 and advocated recently by President Clinton, is to envelop the Georgia-to-Maine path in a 1,000-foot-wide buffer by the end of 2000.

"We help them and they help us," Brigham said of the cooperative effort.

History and hiking are not unrelated here. Parts of the trail were used by both armies in 1862. A ridge-top stone wall by the trail is the same one Confederate soldiers waited behind as Union troops charged up the hill. And Brigham hikes the trail.

"There is more history along Maryland's [segment of the Appalachian Trail] than along the trail in other states," said Donald T. King, who directs the National Park Service's land-acquisition efforts for most of the remaining 32.1 unprotected miles scattered through several states.

"We made the Park Service and others aware that it's not just a trail but also a very historic piece of land. A lot of young men sacrificed their lives there," Brigham said.

Brigham's interest in South Mountain was sparked by a remark he overheard at an 1989 party marking the 100th anniversary of the Reno monument at Wise's Field.

"Someone that night said, 'We're going to be selling some land to a developer near Wise's Field,' " Brigham recalled. "I asked if he would entertain a bid from a preservation group. He would. We formed the league, made a bid and bought 10 acres at Wise's Field."

The league later bought a parcel along Alternate U.S. 40 near Turner's Gap. A sliver of it through which the trail passed was sold to the Park Service. The league also advised the Park Service on other purchases, and it owns two other South Mountain parcels that might enhance battlefield appreciation.

Brigham praised H. Grant DeHart, director of the state's Open Space program, for helping to preserve South Mountain. Agricultural easements purchased by the state last year brought the total mountain property protected to more than 1,000 acres.

Schedule

These activities are scheduled for the Battle of South Mountain re-enactment:

Saturday

2:30 p.m.: Formation of troops

3 p.m.: Battle

5 p.m.: Camps close

8 p.m.: Camp dance

Sunday

9 a.m.: Camps open

10 a.m.: Church services

11 a.m.: Guest speaker

1 p.m.: Guest speaker

1:30 p.m.: Formation of troops

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